Posted April 11, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in Sports & Recreation
 
 

It’s Doesn’t Always Suck to be Rick Pitino


At the age of 46 (a relatively young age for a basketball coach), Rick Pitino seemed to be poised for nothing but the highest level of success any coach could dream of. It was the spring of 1996, he was the head coach of the University of Kentucky –  one of the most prestigious basketball programs in the world  –  and he had just coached his team to a NCAA title. When Pitino took the job in 1989, the program was recovering from a recruiting scandal that had hurt the team’s image and was in need of repair.

Seven years later, Pitino had assembled one of the most dominant teams in college history and restored order to the program. A year later, he was made coach, general manager, and president of the Boston Celtics – the most storied professional basketball franchise in the world. In the modern era of the NBA, this was an almost unprecedented amount of power being given to a head coach, but Pitino was worth it – a true basketball thinker, a pure coach, and the greatest commodity on the market.

Naturally, this is where the story twists.

Pitino lasted a little under four seasons as the Celtics’ head coach, never leading the team to the playoffs. Though he attempted to innovate traditional NBA game plans through his full court press lineup, he achieved little success in Boston. To be fair, having won an NBA-record 16 titles at the time, the standard that the fans and media had for the team were immensely high. Pitino’s teams were never going to be comparable to the dominant team that won 11 championships in 13 seasons during the Bill Russell era. Pitino, never a man to allow adversity to get the better of him, took up the head-coaching job at the University of Louisville within a few months of resigning from his position in Boston. This caused a huge up-stir among college basketball fans, as Louisville was Kentucky’s greatest rival and seeing their legendary coach representing their interstate adversary certainly didn’t sit well with Kentucky fans. Never the less, Pitino soldiered on.

In 2005 – just his fourth season with the school – Pitino led his Cardinals to its first Final Four appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 19 years. Over the next seven years, he would lead the Cardinals to two Elite Eight appearances and one more Final Four appearance, the latter of which resulted in a tough loss to his former team and Louisville archrival – the Kentucky Wildcats. While it’s certainly tough for a coach to fail on that stage, especially to a hated

rival, this was far from the biggest embarrassment Pitino suffered during this stretch. In April of 2009, just a month after leading his team to the Elite Eight, Pitino came forward to the media about an embarrassing personal scandal: He admitted to having an extramarital affair with a coworker’s wife six years ago that lead to him paying for her abortion. According to Pitino, she had attempted to extort him through blackmail, which lead to him coming clean to his wife and pressing charges against Karen Cunagin Sypher. While Pitino’s marriage and employment survived this disgrace, his reputation was unquestionably sullied by the tawdry details of scandal.

Flash forward to Monday night, April 8, 2013. After four years of repairing his personal life, reputation, and basketball team, Pitino led his Louisville Cardinals to a NCAA Title as they defeated the Michigan Wolverines by a score of 82-76 in one of the most evenly matched and hard fought title games in recent history. When watching a Louisville game this season or reading commentary on the team, the biggest buzzword is “gritty.” Louisville doesn’t have the most athletic players, and few are expected to have long careers at the NBA level. The team makes up for that lack of NBA pedigree by outworking other teams and opting for efficiency over flash, grinding out tough wins in the face of more traditionally intimidating opponents.

The parallels between the team and coach are hard to miss and this has been quite possibly the greatest week of Rick Pitino’s professional career. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, his son landed a head-coaching job at the University of Minnesota, and he became the first coach in Men’s College Basketball history to win a NCAA Title at multiple schools. Despite all that success, Pitino is too experienced at the ups and downs of professional coaching to let himself get caught up in the hype. Like his championship winning Louisville team, he’s been hardened by defeats, both professionally and personally, and has turned that into motivation to work harder. After all the highs and lows of his coaching career, he has proved that his resilience in the face of losses is a greater asset than anything he has gained through victories.

By David Lukashok